How Cockroaches Led me to Writing Romance: A Personal Anecdote

Long, long ago, when the world was young (and so was I), animals, anatomy, and biology fascinated me. At one point, I seriously considered becoming a veterinarian like, say, Doctor Doolittle or James Thurber. That, or a marine biologist like Jacques Cousteau. Both career paths required study of the sciences, and I was up for the challenge. Subsequent events, which I am about to describe, changed not only my mind, but also my career choice, and, possibly, the world.

Fast-forward to grade 13, the time when my career plan kicked into high gear with the study of Biology. I was the only girl willing to sever the head from a formaldehyde-pickled cat to examine its neck structure. Whereas I found it fascinating, all the other girls found it icky, pleaded time-of-the-month problems, and fled the classroom. So on the final exam, when asked to draw a cross-section of the neck and label it, I was the only girl able to produce an accurate diagram of esophagus, trachea, vertebra with spinal cord, and major blood vessels. All the other girls drew some variation of a circle surrounded by fur on the outside (labelled fur, possibly to avoid confusion) and an all-purpose opening in the center (labelled gullet), containing, optionally, a tangled blob (labelled fur ball). Needless to say, I was the only girl awarded an A+ by the teacher.

Mad ScientistIn first year university, most girls avoided Zoology-101 like the plague. Except me. Every week, 50 budding scientists (49 frat brothers and myself), descended on the laboratory to play with Bunsen burners and dissect various beasties. I was in heaven. Between explosions and other failed experiments, we tackled rodents and fetal pigs with gusto.

Mostly, our specimens arrived dead. All but two notable exceptions.

Take the de-cerebrated frogs. Someone had lopped away the front portion of their brains, leaving the creatures without a pain center, but alive for our dissection. Scalpels flashing, we dug into our frogs, marveling at the exposed brain, beating heart, and working digestive system. I couldn’t help congratulating myself on how much I was learning.

By the time our group had finished with the frogs, those poor suckers were well and truly dead. The next week’s specimens, not so much. Here’s how it went down.

2014 06 08 - CockroachesAt the start of class, the ancient walls pulsated with anticipation. Word that we were examining cockroaches had spread. The insects, anesthetized, but still very much alive, slumbered on top of one another in black, shiny heaps at the bottom of huge Bell jars. White-coated lab assistants reached in and deposited three humongous roaches, each roughly the size of a baby’s fist, onto paper towels laid in front of each student.

Time flew as we examined our roaches under microscopes, gently spreading wings to watch blood cells pump through teeny-tiny capillaries, trying not to pull legs off while making an unsuccessful attempt to determine the gender, and documenting our findings in massive 3-ringed binders. The bugs cooperated by remaining immobile—for almost two full hours.

The first clue of impending crisis was when 230 lbs. of pure muscle, commonly known as a linebacker, stampeded out of the lab, flapping his hands and shrieking like a girl. The class laughed, figuring he was experiencing either flashbacks from a bad acid trip or the after-effects of residence food.

Approximately 1.273 minutes later, I noticed that my largest roach, which had been inert upon its paper towel, was now waving a pair of antennae at me. We locked gazes, which was unfair given that roach’s multi-faceted eyes gave it the advantage. Moments later, six segmented legs pumped the air. The cockroach righted itself, gave me the finger, and promptly launched itself off the edge of the desk to scurry away.

What happened next was unspeakable. All the roaches recovered early. Every. Single. One.

The entire first year class of biologist wannabes scrambled over one another in our attempt to flee the lab. Terrified screams accompanied the thunder of sneakered feet. When I glanced over my shoulder on my way out, the roaches were bouncing from desk to desk in a victory dance. I swear I saw a few high-fiving one another in celebration of their narrow escape.

Needless to say, after that semester ended, I never entered another Zoology lab. In my defence, I bet the sight of a roomful of re-animated cockroaches would have discouraged Hippocrates from soldiering on. Renowned Scottish biologist, Alexander Fleming, might have packed it in to become a haggis producer. And it’s a good job Marie Curie never experienced a similar lab malfunction, or wound sterilization might have remained undiscovered for another century.

Who knows what my life (or the world) would have looked like if I had continued my quest for scientific knowledge. But sadly, it was not to be. Science’s loss eventually proved to be romance’s gain. First, I joined the world of bits, bytes, and hex dumps (probably not what you’re thinking), to end up as a disillusioned management consultant in the IT business.

That was before I smartened up and became a romance writer.

And unless I miss my guess, the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grand-roaches of those long ago escapees roam the halls of the U of T Medical Building to this very day.



The Jaguar Legacy - Side PanelA reporter on a mission to salvage her career and save her mother’s life …
With her reputation in tatters, acclaimed journalist Charley Underhill invades a remote archaeological dig, determined to unravel rumors of an ancient curse. If it means avoiding hairy, hungry predators or lying to a charismatic archaeologist with a sexy Scottish accent, brilliant scientific mind, and gaudy Hawaiian shirts, she’s up for the challenge. She needs the money to pay for her mother’s life-saving treatment.

A brilliant archaeologist determined to safeguard his discovery …
Hell-bent on guarding the secret of a ruined Olmec city hidden deep in the Mexican jungle, Dr. Alistair Kincaid fears a premature press leak will destroy his last chance at success. He won’t let a snoopy reporter, even one with a quirky sense of humor, smarts, and a heartwarming smile, ruin his career. Or steal his heart.

But ancient danger stalks the jungle on velvet paws …
Secrets collide as strands from past lives intertwine with the present, drawing Charley and Kincaid into a legacy of danger and murder, shape-shifting and mysticism, romance and redemption. Is history doomed to repeat itself or is a new path possible?

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Fur Ball Fever (96dpi - Grey Border)An impulsive pet spa owner loses her client’s prize pooch …
After a lifetime of impetuous mistakes, Jersey Shore pet spa owner Grace Donnelly outdoes herself when a client’s prize poodle, a shoo-in to win the annual Fur Ball, goes AWOL while in her custody. With money, careers, and lives in jeopardy, Grace is not afraid to strap on the leather to go undercover in a fetish club looking for clues. Too bad her helpers consist of an aging hippie aunt, a renegade schnauzer, a drag queen, and a dominatrix or two. Worst of all, the only man truly qualified to help is her former flame, the most domineering male on the eastern seaboard.

A smokin’ hot bodyguard with his own agenda …
Texas-born security specialist Nick Jackson faces his worst nightmare when Grace’s amateur investigation nearly blows his covert operation. Unless he nails the con-artist who scammed his home-town’s seniors and whacked a witness, his homicidal granddaddy will take justice into his own liver-spotted hands. To salvage his case, his sanity, and his ex-lover’s velvety skin, Nick joins forces with the sassy crusader who rubs him the wrong way–and so many right ways too.

Together, they weather an explosion of murder, mayhem, mystery, & smokin’ hot romance …
Action bounces from the upscale Shore community of Saltwater Estates to a beach harboring washed-up corpses, a fancy yacht no honest preacher could possibly afford, and the bawdiest nightclub in Atlantic City. Hazards multiply like bunnies, culminating in fun, danger, romance … and a Fur Ball extravaganza the locals will never forget.

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I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment, let me know you’ve read this post, tell me what you wanted to be when you grew up.

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2 Responses to How Cockroaches Led me to Writing Romance: A Personal Anecdote

  1. Hilarious, Maureen.

    I bet those roaches spread to the surrounding off campus housing. My sister encountered a few when attending U of T and living in an old house nearby. Now we know who to blame! 🙂

    • Maureen Fisher says:

      Thanks, Madelle. I plead ‘Not Guilty.’ Those roaches were under-anesthetized, but good!

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